Lot 39
  • 39

MARK GROTJAHN | Untitled (Black and Cream Butterfly Negative Middle #633)

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Mark Grotjahn
  • Untitled (Black and Cream Butterfly Negative Middle #633)
  • signed three times, titled, numbered #633 and variously inscribed on the reverse
  • coloured pencil on paper 
  • 162.5 by 121.9 cm. 64 by 48 in.
  • Executed in 2006.


The Artist
Anton Kern Gallery, New York 
Acquired from the above by the present owner in September 2006


New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Mark Grotjahn, September 2006 - January 2007, n.p., illustrated in colour 


Mark Grotjahn, Mark Grotjahn Drawings, New York 2006, cover, illustrated in colour (upside down)


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly warmer in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
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Catalogue Note

Executed on an immersive scale, Untitled (Black and Cream Butterfly Negative Middle #633) epitomises Mark Grotjahn’s preoccupation with perspective and the geometric manipulation of space. The work belongs to Grotjahn’s eminent Butterfly series, and was one of eight drawings included in the artist’s pivotal 2006 installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Drawing on the art historical legacy of twentieth-century luminaries, such as Piet Mondrian and Bridget Riley, Grotjahn builds upon Op art, Constructivism and geometric abstraction to create works that straddle the opposing idioms of representation and abstraction. Grotjahn is one of the most celebrated proponents of this strain of contemporary art making, which also includes artists such as Wade Guyton and Tomma Abts, and his Butterfly works are undoubtedly his most iconic motif. As Michael Ned Holte has remarked, “The butterfly has become to Mark Grotjahn what the target is to Kenneth Noland, the zip was to Barnett Newman, and the color white is to Robert Ryman. Grotjahn’s abstracted geometric figure is suitably elusive. In fact, the more familiar it becomes, the more he refines its ability to surprise and, perhaps paradoxically, takes it further away from actual butterflyness” (Michael Ned Holte, ‘Mark Grotjahn’, Artforum, November 2005, p. 259). Untitled (Black and Cream Butterfly Negative Middle #633) sees Grotjahn employ two distinct vanishing points for his radiating linear abstraction, with a void in the centre creating a magnet-like focal point between opposing poles. Meticulously mapping out his composition in pencil before blocking in the triangular components, Grotjahn works under an exacting system which sees him move from left to right across the canvas, filling in the lines. There is no indecision here, no hesitancy. However, this uniformity of approach does not preclude the visibility of the artist’s hand. Flecks of coloured pencil transgress the bounds of the ‘butterfly’ shape, and upon close inspection the individual strokes of the pencil become readily apparent. The texture of the work is palpable, and indeed proves to be just as important as the dizzying visual effect created by the artist’s masterful manipulation of space and optics. The alternating black and cream bands pull the viewer into the recessional depth of its composition, whilst the instinctive association of the work with industrial production and perfection is dispelled by the manifest visibility of the artist’s hand. 

The simple formal tenets that have provided the basis for much of Grotjahn’s work – notions of iteration and repetition, and their associated illusionistic qualities – have given rise to an extraordinary breadth of work. The artist has described his unique aesthetic as “a certain graphic form that I could stick with and see how far within that system I could push it", and there can be little doubt that this ostensibly simple graphic framework has laid the foundation for a systematic and rigorous visual investigation (Mark Grotjahn cited in: Exh. Cat., Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, 54th Carnegie International 2004-05, 2004, p. 154). Hypnotic and immersive in its optical complexity, the present work is a superb example of Grotjahn’s Butterfly series, and epitomises what Heidi Jacobson has described as the artist’s capacity to “seduce the viewer and then… throw them into a tailspin” (Heidi Jacobson cited in: Exh. Cat., Aspen Museum of Art, Mark Grotjahn, 2012, p. 56).